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Cigar Review: La Aurora Untamed Robusto

3 Mar 2015

If La Aurora was an actor, this creation would be playing against type. Long identified with prototypical Dominican cigars, the enduring manufacturer offers up something different from band to blend.unnamedbox

untamed-rSo far, this effort to tap into the growing market for stronger cigars has met with much success since its debut at last year’s IPCPR Trade Show. Many bloggers have praised Untamed, and Dominican Cigar Review chose it 2014’s Cigar of the Year.

And it’s difficult to overstate the significance of the line when the company itself touts it in a press release as “a step towards the future.”

What’s different? Well, for starters, the cigar’s filler has none of the typical Seco leaves—milder tobacco from the middle of the plant—and an abundance of stronger Dominican Ligero. The binder is Dominican and the dark wrapper is U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro.

On the cosmetic level, La Aurora’s usually stately lion has been transformed into a toothy, ferocious beast dominating the distressed-style box and the cigar’s large band.

The line comes in five sizes, with the Robusto (5 x 50) the smallest. I was sent three samples for review. Checking online, a single Robusto appears to retail for about $7.50.

Untamed offers a pleasant, sweet, fruity pre-light aroma from the wrapper. I worried that the burn might be a problem because of the thick wrapper and blend makeup, but the three I smoked performed perfectly. Both draw and smoke production were excellent.

My disappointment came with a harshness I experienced from the beginning. It was aggressive, particularly so in the first half, often nearly overwhelming the prominent deep espresso flavors and pepper. I didn’t find a lot of the sweetness often associated with Maduro wrappers, though there was more in the final third.

I think this cigar could age well, with humidor time perhaps smoothing out the harshness and allowing the other flavors to come to the fore.

When a major manufacturer such as La Aurora tries something new, it’s always a good idea to give it a try. I’d urge anyone who likes stronger cigars to pick up a couple and form your own impression. I give the Untamed a respectable three and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Yes, It Was Time to Smoke THAT Cigar

23 Feb 2015

Opus 2

Many of you, I’m guessing, suffer from the same malady afflicting me: You are less and less likely to smoke a cigar as it gets older and older.

I’ve recognized my affliction for quite some time, but efforts to combat it never worked. It was just too easy to convince myself that, for whatever reason, the time simply wasn’t right to justify burning a special cigar.

Recently, though, I made a breakthrough. I decided a couple of months beforehand that my 65th birthday would be the perfect occasion to light up the oldest cigar in my humidor.

That cigar is—or, rather, was—a nearly ten-year-old OpusX bought at a now-shuttered Clearwater, Florida, shop not long after we moved down here. From the below photo, you can see that the cellophane had yellowed; what you can’t see is the extraordinary plume covering the wrapper.

Opus

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve smoked a few Opus cigars, but none with that much age. I needn’t have worried. It was truly an extraordinary experience. Even at almost a decade, it still kicked off with some strength. That dissipated early on as the nutty, warm, and creamy flavors ramped up.

It was as complex and smooth as any cigar I can recall. The white ash hung on tightly as the stick burned ever so slowly, producing thick, rich smoke.

All in all, this Opus was everything a cigar should be. Oh, that I had bought a box back then…

Well, I can’t change what I did, or didn’t, do ten years ago. But I can change my behavior going forward and make sure I enjoy the cigars I have in my humidor.

To that end, I recently opened a box of 2011 My Father Limited Edition Toros to share. The cigars were tasty and extraordinarily smooth. Frankly, I can’t imagine them improving with further age, so I plan to smoke the remaining stash in the coming months.

I’ve also identified my next event and event cigar: a Cuban Cohiba Behike I’ll ignite to celebrate the occasion when a friend and former colleague signs her book contract.

Several years ago, my colleague wrote about this very issue, warning readers against “waiting for a perfect cigar moment that may never come.” He was exactly right, and I’m trying to heed his advice.

After all, there’s no shortage of things to celebrate. And no better way to celebrate than with a great cigar.

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Nub Cafe Espresso 438

22 Feb 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

nub_espresso

I’ve been curious about Nub’s line of coffee-flavored cigars since its introduction last year. I picked up this short (4 inches), thin (38 ring gauge) Sumatra-wrapped stick for about $3.50. The dominant note is sugar, which lingers on the lips. The coffee flavor is akin to a cup heavily creamed and sweetened. Otherwise, there’s little taste or finish. On the plus side, construction, burn, and draw were excellent. But my curiosity is satisfied.

Verdict = Sell.

-George E

photo credit: Nub Cafe

Commentary: Ring-a-Ding-Ding

16 Feb 2015

Cigar

First, I have to say I have nothing against cigars with big ring gauges. I’ve smoked quite a few I’ve enjoyed. I’m sure I’ll smoke more.

But as the ring gauge explosion continues, it seems a good time to reflect on what makes smaller sizes special, too.

For example, consider the blend. In a smaller cigar, the wrapper—the most expensive and often most desirable leaf—exerts a greater influence on the overall taste because there is proportionally less filler. This doesn’t make it better. But it does often mean the filler in a large cigar tends to dominate. That’s good if you like the filler. Sometimes, though, to my mind it’s not so good if you’re looking for the greater subtlety and complexity that can come from the mixing of tobacco types.

Then there is the matter of lighting. Big ring gauge cigars can be difficult to light evenly and to keep burning evenly along the way. An uneven burn disrupts the blender’s concoction because the components aren’t working harmoniously the way they were intended.

Another factor that plays a role is the act of smoking itself. As the tobacco burns at the foot and you draw smoke down the body of the cigar, the unignited tobacco traps some of the tar and other byproducts of combustion. They can build up and be unpleasant.

When it comes to bigger ring gauges, it helps to remember some of that high school geometry you probably haven’t used in years. Ring gauge measures a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius. That means when you double the ring size you’re increasing the area by four. (It’s the same reason that buying a bigger pizza is almost always a bargain based on what you pay and what you get.)

In the case of cigars, the result is much more tobacco burning and more tobacco trapping, which could lead to bitterness in the final third or so.

Again, I’m not attacking big ring gauges. You should smoke what you enjoy. I’d just urge you to remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A great man is always willing to be little.”

-George E

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Insider: Pipes Magazine Radio Show Host Brian Levine

10 Feb 2015

With the success of his Pipes Magazine Radio Show, Brian Levine has become one of the most prominent people in the hobby. The weekly show—available on iTunes and other podcast hosts—is a lively mix of education, interviews, and fun.

pipes-magHere Brian talks about how it began and what goes into it, as well as a bit of advice for cigar smokers thinking about taking up the pipe.

Stogie Guys: How did the Pipes Magazine Radio Show get started?

Brian Levine: It was a dark and stormy night. A tree had fallen and knocked out the power to my house. We had used the last candle, and the fire was getting low so I decided to go outside and try to cut the tree down hoping it would clear the lines. A bolt of lighting hit near by and I saw it, the logo for The Pipes Magazine Radio Show… Well, not really.

Kevin Godbee (owner/publisher of Pipesmagazine.com) called me in June 2012. He said he had an idea for an audio show based on pipes and pipe smoking. He said he had asked two people for recommendations on who would be good to do this, and both of them had no taste whatsoever and recommended me. We met a couple weeks later in Kansas City at their annual pipe show to discuss the idea.

Kevin and I spent the summer learning software, researching style, gathering sound bites, and setting the tone and format for the show. We finally hit on the basic formula we wanted. We both committed to do the show each week for one year no matter how successful it was at the start. We set a start date in September 2012 and the rest is history.

SG: What is your goal with the show?

BL: I hope that each episode is sometimes educational but always entertaining. I feel like The Pipes Magazine Radio Show is my way to also contribute to the electronic library of information on pipes and pipe tobacco. I am not much of a writer, so doing a blog was out. I have a distant background in television and film so I understand the issues involved with video but always loved old radio.

So, the idea is one hour a week where you can sit down with your pipe, or take it on the road and listen to me, the guest that week, some music or entertainment, and maybe hear me pop off about something, all the while celebrating that we are pipe smokers.

I also make it a point to not just have guests on that are in the business. About half of the guests are pipe smokers that I have met or became aware of and have ranged from a friend who performs one-man shows as Thomas Edison to a collector of pipe-smoking Santa Claus figurines. We have also had pipe smoking clergy from all sects. There are also interviews with individual pipe makers and the biggest factories, as well as tobacco blenders big and small.

Either way, no matter who the guest is that week, I hope to learn about them as a person as well as a pipe smoker. If I do what I want, it will sound like you are listening in on two people having a conversation. I also don’t care what kind or cost of pipe or tobacco a guest smokes, as long as they enjoy it.

SG: Do you know how many listeners you have? Any idea how many are younger pipe smokers?

BL: At least one, his name is John Seiler and he is always the first to comment on a show when we are done. Really, we average 14,000 downloads per episode. Some of the more popular episodes have over 200,000 hits on the file. Obviously the older shows have more hits then a new one. Thanks to the sponsors and Pipesmagazine.com we are able to keep all 125-plus episodes online and available to be played. That is a whole lot of data and me jabbering for over 125 hours.

The podcast of the show is also sent out through iTunes, Podcast.com, Podbay, Podkicker, Spotify, Stitcher and another eight or ten online sources, so it is hard to tell our demographics. The show has a Facebook fan page and I can tell you from that, 54% percent of the listeners are under the age of 44. That number is much lower then I thought it would have been. Women represent 8% of our fan base, and it is not because I am so sexy. About 30% of the listeners are outside of the United States. I have heard from six continents including all the major countries except for some reason we don’t have any listeners in North Korea. Go figure.

SG: What’s been the biggest surprise since you began the program?

BL: There have been several including the fact that the older demographic has embraced the show. The countries that the show reaches shocks me because we only do the show in English.

The biggest surprise has come from the feedback that we receive. Many of the comments we get say how the show is the listeners’ weekly “Pipe Club.” A large amount of pipe smokers do not know any other pipe smokers so this is their one chance each week to hear from me and other pipe people about the hobby, and that means a lot to me. I am glad we are connecting people in a digital way. I was also surprised at the beginning that anybody would want to hear from me, but they do and they wanted more.

SG: If you would, tell us a little about your favorite pipe and pipe tobacco.

BL: Nope. I don’t talk about my favorites for two reasons. One, I am in the business and my full time job as the National Sales Manager for the Sutliff Tobacco Co. makes me biased towards what we make as well as the other brands we import like Mac Baren and Brigham. However, being in the business gives me access to people that others would not get.

The second reason is really the biggest. I do not want to influence listeners or turn them off because of what I like and smoke. I want each pipe smoker to go on their own journey to find those pipes and tobaccos that are magic to them. I am happy to have every guest on the show talk openly about what they like.

I can say that I have a soft spot in my heart for my Disney pipes, and if anyone wants to learn more about my collection of Disney-related tobacciana and the fact that Disneyland and Walt Disney World had full service tobacconist on Main St. USA, they can see my entire collection on Facebook.

I will say that I enjoy some of the older pipes, especially the English factory pipes from the first half of the last century. I also think we are in a golden age right now as far as the quality of pipes and tobaccos that are on the market.

SG: What’s your advice to a cigar smoker who wants to get into pipes? How should they approach pipes and tobacco?

BL: First let me say to anyone getting started, the tobacco goes in the big hole and your mouth goes on the small hole. But, seriously, pipe smoking is a completely different experience than a cigar. I have smoked cigars for over 20 years so I know what I am talking about, yet I prefer my pipes.

Think of smoking a pipe like a martini and a cigar like a single malt. The martini takes preparation and tools to make and enjoy. A single malt is ready to go out of the bottle. A pipe is dramatically more personal then a cigar because you can pack your pipe using different methods. When you buy a cigar it is ready to go. Pipe tobacco tastes differently in different sized pipes.

If a cigar smoker wants to try a pipe I suggest they do the following: find a pipe that they like the look, feel, and style of. Find a few tobaccos that you like the smell of. You will also need a tamper, a soft flame lighter, and pipe cleaners. Get some advice on different pipe smoking techniques. These can come from forums, YouTube, or your tobacconist. Give it several tries before you give up. It took me six years of regular pipe smoking to find my pipe smoking style and preferences, so don’t give up after a few bowls. Listening to the Pipes Magazine Radio Show will help (or hurt) as well. I am also available to answer questions at brian@pipesmagazine.com

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Good, Great, and Not-So-Hot Cigars (Part 2)

4 Feb 2015

Cigars

One of the most difficult distinctions in judging a cigar is separating the cigar from the cigar experience.

For example, the other day I spent several hours on the phone with an insurance company trying to straighten out my Medicare application. I was smoking a cigar but I can’t even recall what it was. But I assure you it could have been a $500 Davidoff Oro Blanco and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

On the other hand, I’m confident most of us can recall a smoke in a great environment that seemed wonderful, only to disappoint when returned to less stellar conditions.

That is one reason why, when reviewing a cigar, we smoke more than one, and why we often remark on the circumstances if they’re anything out of the ordinary.

Speaking of our reviews, you’ll find an explanation of the StogieGuys.com system here and an archive of those cigars we’ve judged to be the best here.

When assessing a cigar, one of the most difficult things to do is to recognize your personal preferences. Not eliminate them, because that’s impossible. But you need to be aware of them.

The poster child for this is, of course, Macanudo. There’s no shortage of smokers who’ll tell you what a lousy cigar Macanudo is. Of course, it’s nothing of the sort. You may not enjoy it—you may not be able to stand it—but it’s by no stretch of the imagination a bad cigar. It’s a mild stick with remarkable consistency, excellent construction, and a nearly unparalleled sales record.

Since cigars are an object of pleasure and enjoyment, there’s no standardized scale on which they can be measured. Everyone’s tastes are different, and most people’s tastes evolve and change as they continue to smoke cigars. Cigars I once thought extraordinary I now find quite ordinary; if you’ve been smoking a while, I imagine that’s true for you as well.

A truly great cigar, for me, creates an almost transcendent experience, one where you are nearly lost in the act of smoking. I know that sounds pretty highfalutin for burning a bunch of rolled up leaves, but I can feel it when it happens.

But that isn’t all it takes. To be great, a cigar must perform that way consistently. Cigar people will tell you making one great stick isn’t nearly as tough as making them that way again and again and again.

Construction plays a role, too. The draw must be right, the burn even and complete.

Personally, I don’t assign a lot of importance to aesthetics, though they are usually good when the cigar is top-flight. But I wouldn’t let an ugly band—or no band—weigh heavily, just as the choice of a glossy, lacquered box or simple cardboard makes little impression.

When I’m reviewing cigars my goal is simple: provide information and impressions to help you make choices.

I prefer smoking and writing about good cigars far more than dissing bad ones. And when I come across a great one, it’s even more fun. I’m eager to spread the good news. Fortunately, there are more and more opportunities to do just that.

-George E

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Good, Great, and Not-So-Hot Cigars (Part 1)

3 Feb 2015

cigars-neonsign

Who among us does not relish a great cigar? But, then again, who among us can agree on just what makes a cigar great? I started thinking about this several weeks ago, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since.

It started when I lit an Oliva Serie V Toro, a one-time favorite I hadn’t smoked in ages. Less than an inch into it, I thought, “Wow, this is a great cigar. Why haven’t I been smoking more of these?”

As I continued burning it, my enjoyment didn’t diminish. But my assessment did.

Why? Well, I reflected on the circumstances. The Serie V came in the wake of cigars I had smoked the previous two days that I found disappointing. By comparison, the Oliva was wonderful. But trying to approach it a little more objectively, I had to admit that, while the Serie V is a very good cigar, it failed to attain the elite status of great. While the stick’s flavors and performance were excellent, it came up a tad short in complexity and smoothness.

That led me to begin examining what qualities make for a great cigar, what accounts for a bad or mediocre cigar, and which attributes don’t really matter in any judgment.

It is fairly easy, I think, to agree on things that make for a lousy cigar. Descriptions like harsh, plugged, tasteless, bitter, and wildly inconsistent come quickly to mind. Mediocrity is a little tougher to judge, since one man’s bland can be another’s tasty.

Generally, I think, mediocre cigars are those that have nothing special, nothing that stands out. They’re not bad, they’re just not that good.

Judgments also can be clouded by considerations that I would classify as personal preference. These sometimes enter into the discussion, though I believe they often should not.

Size, usually ring gauge, is one of the most common. While many ardent smokers disdain today’s massive ring gauges, there is certainly nothing that makes them inherently bad cigars. Personally, I find myself drawn more and more to smaller sticks these days, both in ring gauge and length. Again, though, that is preference, not a standard by which to establish quality.

Another factor can be price. Too often, I believe, some smokers equate high prices with hype and nothing else. As in, “No cigar is worth (fill in your own price tag).”

Sure, that’s true sometimes. But far from always. Growing tobacco is a costly and risky enterprise, but one that can help ensure high quality and consistency, as well as stimulate creativity. Aging and stockpiling tobacco is an expensive investment, but a necessary one for those who wish to create extraordinary blends. Quality control can boost operational costs without an immediately visible effect on the bottom line. Talented workers command higher wages.

Conversely, it is extremely difficult to produce a great cigar at bundle cigar prices.

There are two common cigar-smoking mantras: “Smoke what you like, like what you smoke” and “If you like it, then it’s a good cigar.” Who could argue with either sentiment? On the other hand, can anyone honestly contend that a Ron Mexico, say, is equal to a Padrón Family Reserve, regardless of personal preferences?

The truth is, in our current Era of Magnificent Cigars we encounter a lot fewer lousy sticks than there were years ago. There are also a lot more good and very good cigars on the shelves, too.

In the second part of this commentary (tomorrow), I’ll discuss what I think makes for a great cigar.

-George E

photo credit: Flickr